Louis Cha wrote part of The Legendary Swordsman in Singapore

Louis Cha wrote part of The Legendary Swordsman in Singapore
Hunan Television's 2013 production of The Legendary Swordsman titled Swordsman, features Chen Xiao (left) and Yang Rong.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

In The Legendary Swordsman, century-old wine from Turpan, Xinjiang, is shared, spilled and used for an impromptu work of calligraphy when swordsman Linghu Chong visits the four cultured squires of Plum Manor and challenges them to duels.

The charming chapter, originally titled Plum Manor, Solitary Hill, unfolds in a house near West Lake in Hangzhou.

And it was conjured up by Louis Cha in, of all places, Singapore in 1967.

That year, the Hong Kong novelist and founding editor of Ming Pao Daily News set up Shin Min Daily News here with Axe Brand Universal Oil founder Leung Yun Chee. About two months after Shin Min was launched, leftist riots broke out in Hong Kong in May.

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Cha, who received death threats from the leftists, stayed in Singapore for one and a half months for his safety, said Ming Pao.

Television was not yet prevalent at the time, and Cha, alias Jin Yong, built his newspapers around fiction supplements that serialised his sought-after wuxia novels.

During his sojourn in Singapore, he went to the Shin Min office - at 7 Davidson Road then - past 2pm every day to write about 1,200 words of his latest novel, The Legendary Swordsman, journalist Toh Lam Huat told Ming Pao in 2016.

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The fiction editor had temporarily moved into the editor-in-chief's office and would watch as Cha came in, sat on the sofa, and flipped through a newspaper, Toh said. At the editor-in-chief's desk, the novelist would smoke a cigarette and start writing, as a typesetter waited at the door. 

Cha filled three sheets of manuscript paper at every sitting, stopping after he had produced about 1,200 words.

"His habit was to stop after finishing writing," Toh said. "He didn't write more, didn't write in advance, always wrote on the spot and didn't reread it after writing. He rarely made changes to the manuscript. This means that his thinking was careful."

Toh was a supplement editor with Nanyang Siang Pau when he befriended Cha in 1981. Around the 1980s, Cha sold his stake in Shin Min, after foreigners were barred from holding more than a 3 per cent stake in a local newspaper. In the 1990s, he sold Ming Pao to Hong Kong entrepreneur Yu Pun Hoi. It is now controlled by Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King.

Toh, who was the editor of Shin Min from 1992 to 2007, did not have first-hand knowledge of those afternoons Cha worked in Singapore. But he heard about it from the late fiction editor Ling Geok Choon, who had been in that room with Cha - and who later gave Toh those precious handwritten pages about Linghu's adventure in Plum Manor.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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